The end came, albeit two days late, for hundreds of Family Radio billboards across the nation May 23. While the tear-down of the apocalyptic billboards marked a conclusion to Family Radio's public ad campaign, private donors remain frustrated with the organization's use of their funds. The $100 million campaign, which centered on ads that read, "Judgment Day, May 21: the Bible guarantees it," was funded in part by contributions from hundreds of donors. Most of the funds came from the sale of a television station and a radio station, a Family Radio spokesman said. But some donors sacrificed their life's fortunes, even jobs, in anticipation for the "guaranteed" end and are now in dire financial straits; others are simply frustrated and in search of recompense. With millions of dollars in family estates, wills, and personal funds pledged in support of a now defunct prophecy, is there any legal recourse for donors?
If history is any indication, it would be difficult, if not impossible for a lawsuit to move forward against Harold Camping and Family Radio. The plea of donors for legal protection against false religious claims hearkens back to United States v. Ballard (1944), in which leaders of the "I AM" movement, a New Age group, were charged with fraudulently collecting donations in exchange for religious favors they knew to be nonexistent. In the 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the leaders' conviction, ruling that courts cannot declare religious beliefs true or false or interpret the sincerity of one's beliefs without clear evidence of self-contradiction.
"United States v. Ballard certainly suggests that it will be difficult [for a case against Family Radio] to succeed on a fraud claim based on false religious statements," ...1